Advantages Has almost anything you could want, vibrant, lots to do and see
Disadvantages The crowds. The crowds. The crowds.
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
I first visited New York City in 1999 and was blown away by the buzz I got from the place. Since that trip I have been back seven times and have another trip planned for springtime next year.On that first trip I was really green – it was only my second trip to the US and New York offered a stark contrast to the two other cities I had visited – San Francisco and Las Vegas. New York seemed more European yet altogether more brash. It seemed more serious and offered so much for us as naïve tourists we realised one trip was never going to be enough despite packing as much as possible in on our 4 night stay.
In 2001 we made our third trip to the city, arriving in May of that year and instead of staying in Midtown as we usually did, we decided to stay at the Millenium Hilton Hotel in Downtown. The hotel was located in the heart of the financial district and the view from our hotel room was the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. We had become familiar with the area through my husband’s infatuation with a store located nearby called Century 21, which sold designer and branded clothing at a fraction of the retail price.What I remember most about that trip was not just the view directly across to the South Tower but also attempting to go up to the observation deck on the North Tower. Unfortunately it was a cold day and the combination of the weather – made worse by the wind exacerbated by the skyscrapers nearby - and a long queue made for a cranky daughter. We decided not to wait in the line and would go back up “another time”. Instead we wandered over to a bagel seller nearby before going into the shopping mall inside the World Trade Center to have a look at our favourite store there, a branch of Borders book shop.
This was in mid May and we had no idea then that there would never be “another time” for us to go to the observation deck at the North Tower. Just four months later the towers had become rubble following the horrific events of 11th September that year. I still have photographs of my daughter sitting in the hotel room with the twin towers behind her. I can still picture in my minds’ eye leaving Newark Airport and seeing the imposing presence of the towers from the air.Ten years have passed since that awful day and New York City is making excellent progress in redeveloping the area with the new towers due to be completed by 2014. In amongst this area will be a memorial to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and I would like to think there will be an observation deck for me to visit in three years time.
When I returned to NYC as I have called it ever since my first trip there, it seemed so strange to be walking down Broadway in Greenwich Village and not being able to see the towers as I faced south. They had always been my guide to take me downtown, with the Empire State Building guiding me back north to midtown.For all that 9/11 shocked me it never terrified me. That we would go back to the city following the attacks was never in doubt and sure enough the following year we were back. And all these years later, I still love the place with a passion and I hope I can cover why here.
New York City comprises of five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. Most tourists will invariably want to stay in Manhattan, which is the bustling heart of the city but more recently as Brooklyn has been gentrified, tourists are finding it’s a good option.If you are flying to New York City from the UK you will either land at JFK Airport in Queens or Newark Airport which is located across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Newark is actually closer to Manhattan and I must admit I actually prefer to fly into this airport as it’s not so busy as JFK. The city has a third airport at La Guardia, which is closest of all to Manhattan but the airport is predominantly used for domestic flights.
Getting around New York city is easy. Walking is easy because of the grid system and if you are heading north or south each block will take you about a minute to walk. Going crosstown the blocks are wider and it will take you longer per block.I remember when I was a teenager a boy I knew at school went to New York and he came back with a t-shirt which proclaimed “I rode the New York City Subway – and Survived”. Those days are gone and the subway is clean and safe. Obviously a little common sense is required, along with an ability to understand that not all trains stop at all stations. I learned this the hard way on my very first subway train journey. Heading from 59th Street up to 72nd Street to see the Dakota Building and pay homage to John Lennon, we instead ended up at 125th Street thanks to an express train. Harlem isn’t half as bad as my husband thought however and we safely made it back without incident.
The subway lines are all named after letters or numbers and maps are freely available at stations. Generally there is a station every 8 blocks or so and you need a Metro Card to travel.For all the subway is fast, I prefer to take the bus in Manhattan. I remember my sister telling me on my first trip to the US that taking a bus was not a good idea. We braved the bus in Las Vegas on our first visit to the country and the following month discovered the buses in New York City are a walk in the park in comparison. As in London people will talk to you on buses, whereas on the subway eye contact is avoided and no-one speaks. Buses run either uptown and downtown or crosstown.
I have stayed in several hotels in New York City over the years. I like midtown best but try to avoid the really busy areas, having stayed at the enormous Hotel Pennsylvania on my second trip to the city and finding the crowds outside stifling due to the hotel’s proximity to Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.I find just south of 34th Street to be good, between 8th and 5th Avenues. I enjoyed staying Downtown on the one and only time I did it but it’s worth considering if you stay down there you do need to take a subway or bus for most of midtown whereas if you are staying in 29th Street its feasible to walk up to Times Square or to the Empire State Building.
On my first trip to the city I stayed in Hells’ Kitchen which is located around 8th Avenue and 55th Street. This area has, like most of Manhattan these days, been gentrified and is close to the Rockefeller Center and shopping on 59th Street.Just south of Midtown is Chelsea and I do like it round here – if you walk down to 20th Street there are several good restaurants and bars here. Continue south and you will be in SoHo, an area which has changed almost beyond recognition since my first visit to the city twelve years ago. This is no longer an up and coming neighbourhood – it’s arrived and is teeming with fashionistas.
If you choose to stay uptown the upper West Side is probably better suited to tourists as it’s not quite as chi-chi as the Upper East Side and as such there’s more for a tourist to do.The one thing you do have to consider when planning a trip to New York City is the cost of hotels. Basically, they are expensive and if you can find a hotel room for under £150 a night in Manhattan you are doing well. Find one for under £100 per night and you have hit the jackpot.
There’s so much to do in New York and I have reviewed a couple of attractions in the past in separate reviews so I plan on keeping things fairly brief here. These are just some of my own personal recommendations.
There are actually two observation decks on the Empire State Building and when I visited in 1999 the 102nd floor deck was closed so I had to make do with the deck on the 86th floor. The upper floor has reopened now but it isn’t always open.The building itself is an art deco work of great beauty and is lit at night with different colours used to mark different events or days in the calendar.
Central Park is located in the middle of Manhattan with the park’s southernmost entrance being located at 59th Street. If you were to walk to the northernmost exit you would come out at 110th Street – which gives you an idea of how big it is.The park contains Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon, a zoo, skating rinks (which become swimming pools in July and August) and some theatres along with some beautiful scenic walkways.
Obviously it’s best to try to visit the park on a dry day but I’ve been here in with snow on the ground and frankly it’s been magical – if very cold.
The museum is located on the upper East Side on Madison Avenue and is open from Wednesday to Sunday with general admission costing $18.I first visited the Whitney with my husband on our first trip to New York as he sought out works of art by Edward Hopper, an artist he held in high regard. What is so good about the Whitney isn’t just older works but the fact it champions new artists too.
There are several really good galleries in New York including the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan but the Whitney remains my favourite.
The crowds can be horrific but you have to go to Times Square, even if it’s only once. Personally I would suggest you go twice – once in daylight and once in the dark to really appreciate the lights. If you are up there early enough you can stand outside the Good Morning America studios and perhaps be on TV – assuming that’s your thing.
The ferry does go past Ellis Island and the statue enabling you to get some classic “I’ve been to New York” photos but you will need a bit of zoom on your camera.The best thing about the ferry is seeing Battery Park and Lower Manhattan from the boat – there’s something incredibly iconic about the skyline and it also gives you a sense of wonder as you take the ferry back into Manhattan.
The ferry is free of charge but you must exit and re-enter if you just want to go to Staten Island and come straight back. Having spent a bit of time in Staten Island I would recommend you do this as there’s not much there when you get there. The journey takes 25 minutes each way.
For run of the mill high street shopping 34th Street is a must, with Macy’s in particular worth a visit. The store at 34th Street covers an entire block and you perhaps could do all your shopping here and find no need to visit anywhere else. I love the ladies at the Benefit counter in Macys – they love to spend a little time offering advice and making you up and it’s my daughter’s favourite place to buy cosmetics in the whole of the US.If you like cheap and cheerful fashion then the Old Navy store on 34th Street should suit you as it’s their flagship store. The store sells clothes for all the family and is part of the Gap group. The quality isn’t quite on a par with Gap by and large but the prices do reflect this.
Fifth Avenue is the place to go for luxury items and my favourite store on the Avenue is FAO Schwartz, the historic toy store. When I first visited the shop was easily the best toy shop in the world but over the years it seems to have lost its lustre a little and certainly these days my daughter prefers to visit Hamleys in London. There is a huge Apple store nearby and for those of you who like something special in a small box, Tiffany’s is just across the street.If you like somewhere edgier then Canal Street might be for you. Be wary of much of the designer stuff on offer however – the place is notorious for counterfeit goods.
As something of an inveterate shopper I frequently take the bus up to Woodbury Common, which is quite simply one of the best outlet malls I have ever visited. Fancy some off price Uggs? Woodbury Common’s got it – along with another 219 outlet stores including Gap, Ralph Lauren, Coach and Diane Von Furstenberg. The centre is about an hour’s drive north of New York City.Not quite so far away is Brighton Beach on Brooklyn, and Coney Island. In summer New Yorkers flock here for some entertainment or somewhere to absorb the rays of the sun. The beach is long and sandy and is located on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn. It’s easily accessible from Manhattan by subway.
One trip I took with my husband on my very first trip to New York was the train from Grand Central Station up to Tarrytown. Tarrytown featured in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and is a pretty village which was the home of John D Rockefeller and other rich industrialists of the day. Some of the homes here are stunning and it’s worth a visit if you want to escape the crowds of Manhattan.
For a quirky and interesting dining experience I loved Serendipity 3, which is located not far from Bloomingdales on East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. I first experienced dining at Serendipity 3 in Las Vegas. Typically for Vegas they had borrowed something from out of town and put their own spin on it.The original New York restaurant is amazing however and around the entrance there are lots of weird and wonderful souvenirs and gifts for sale. The food is generally burgers and the like but it’s all presented wonderfully and the menu is a work of art. My only gripe about the New York branch is a distinct lack of restrooms. Be warned however – it gets really busy here so best to book a table first.
Another place I have enjoyed is Ruby Tuesday’s on 7th Avenue just shy of 42nd Street. This is a chain restaurant but it sells really good food and while it’s not the cheapest of chains it’s family friendly, spotlessly clean and has an extensive menu. The location is great but that’s also probably the worst thing about it too because if you don’t get there early for lunch you will have a long wait for a table.Dotted about Manhattan are BBQ restaurants which are cheap and cheerful. Go at a certain time and you can get a chicken dinner for under five bucks and Happy Hour will get you pleasantly plastered on half price margaritas if you so desire. Some come under the Dallas BBQ brand whereas others seem to be similar, but under different ownership. I have visited the Chelsea branch a few times and enjoyed it.
The first BBQ restaurant I visited was on 8th Street and last year I went back with my daughter, determined to enjoy a visit in this crazy but fun place. Unfortunately the restaurant had been turned into a bank so we headed back uptown despondently. What I didn’t know then was the restaurant had quite simply moved further west on 8th Street and proudly proclaims itself to still be New York’s original BBQ restaurant. I must admit this is my favourite BBQ restaurant but as I tend to stay closer to Chelsea I use that one more.
If you travel extensively in the US you may well find some New Yorkers rude but I have always liked their directness – never mind the accent which is thick yet somehow familiar.I have never really felt vulnerable in New York City either but you do have to be sensible and streetwise because the crowds offer plenty of opportunities for pick pockets and opportunistic thieves. If you don’t need to carry wads of cash with you in Manhattan, don’t do it. My advice is to keep your guard up at all times. If someone approaches you with a sob story, keep walking.
Overall New York City can offer you almost anything you want, with the possible exception of solitude. Yes it’s noisy, crowded and at times can be overwhelming but it’s got an unbreakable spirit and a population which makes it almost like a microcosm of the world in its huge melting pot. So far as I am concerned it truly is the greatest city on earth.
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Pages: 144, Paperback, Routledge
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Pages: 366, Hardcover, OUP Oxford
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Release Date: 1999-11-17, Audio CD, Groti
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